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Australian border checks pick up ASF virus in pork products

18th Jan 2019 / By Alistair Driver

The African swine fever (ASF) virus has been found in pork products brought into Australia, after the border authorities stepped up their activities. 

A total of 152 pork products seized at Australian airports and mail processing centres were tested by Department of Agriculture and Water Resources’ over two weeks and the virus was found in six of them. The Department said the increased border activities, including the testing, were a response to the recent global spread of the virus.

Lyn O’Connell, the department’s head of biosecurity, said the department remained committed to keeping Australia’s $60 billion agricultural industries free from the disease.

"Bringing banned products to Australia puts our environment, industries and animal health at risk," she said. “The detection of the virus in seized products at the border does not change Australia’s African swine fever free status.

“The test results do however reinforce the importance of continued compliance with Australia’s strict biosecurity requirements.

“African swine fever is not present in Australia. If introduced it would have a significant impact on pig health and production, and contribute to wider economic impacts caused by a loss of access to overseas markets for our pork products."

She urged people visiting or returning to Australia from countries where this disease is present need to pay particular attention to biosecurity requirements and not bring banned product with them.

“If travellers are carrying foods, plant material or animal products in their luggage they must declare them on their incoming passenger card. Before making online purchases, check what can and cannot be mailed to Australia. Pork products cannot be brought into Australia except under specific import conditions.

“If you are unsure of an item, declare it, or don’t bring it at all.”

Australian Pork Limited welcomed the fact the virus had been detected before it got any further, but said the seizure was another warning for the industry. “On behalf of Australia’s 2500 pig farmers and 36,000 pork supply chain workers, I implore travellers into Australia to adhere to our laws,” APL chief executive Andrew Spencer said.

“It’s imperative that travellers do the right thing and respect Australia’s biosecurity protocols. Australia remains ASF-free and we intend to keep this destructive disease away from Australia’s pig farms.”

NPA reaction

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the discovery highlighted how easy it is for pork products to get into the country and the need for the UK’s customs authorities to be on the highest alert.

“If the virus can get into Australia, it could just as easily be brought to the UK by passengers who have visited infected parts of Europe or other parts of the world, like China – there is a real possibility it is already here. 

"We would like to see the same sort of proactive checks taking place at our points of entry. I passed the information onto Defra ahead of their talks with UK Border Force and I was pleased to hear the Australian chief veterinary officer had already told them!" 

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